Spy war to kill Hwang included high-speed chase

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Spy war to kill Hwang included high-speed chase

A diplomatic source yesterday described North Korea’s persistent attempts to threaten South Korean diplomats in Beijing for a month after Hwang Jang-yop, then the Workers’ Party secretary, sought political asylum in 1997. The source also mentioned escalated tensions that included a high-speed car chase on the day Hwang defected.

Hwang, the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect, entered the South Korean Embassy in Beijing on Feb. 12, 1997, and applied for asylum.

Hwang was found dead on Oct. 10 after 13 years of living a secluded life in the South. Police have ruled the 87-year-old’s death was of natural causes, although there were tireless attempts by the North to assassinate him.

“It is no surprise that the North continuously sent agents to South Korea to assassinate Hwang because it really tried to stop his defection,” the diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Several cars with license plates that belonged to the North Korean Embassy surrounded the South Korean Embassy on the day of Hwang’s defection. Tensions quickly intensified.”

According to the source, a South Korean diplomat and a Ministry of National Defense military attache got in a car that evening to head home. As soon as the car left the embassy, a North Korean Embassy car followed, he recalled.

After a high-speed car chase in downtown Beijing, the South Koreans decided to return to the embassy because they feared that the North Koreans would capture them and use them as hostages in negotiations to demand Hwang’s return.

At the time, China requested then-South Korean Ambassador to China Chung Chong-wook remain inside the embassy compound because the North might harm his safety. Chung lived in his office for more than a month until Hwang was moved to the Philippines on March 18, 1997 - before Hwang eventually went on to South Korea - the source said.

“To protect Hwang, all the windows of the room inside the consulate-general building where he was staying were blocked,” the source said. “Korean diplomats took turns day and night guarding the room. They stood guard, holding golf clubs.”

Hundreds of Chinese police were deployed to guard the embassy, along with armored vehicles, to prepare for the North’s infiltration, he said.

In the latest proof of Pyongyang’s tireless attempt to kill Hwang, a North Korean assassin who had infiltrated the South was arrested earlier this week. The 46-year-old man was not the first agent sent with a mission to kill Hwang. Two spies were caught in April and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

According to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s office, the latest suspect was arrested Tuesday on charges of posing as a defector but whose real mission was to kill Hwang. He was under orders from Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, director of the general reconnaissance bureau at North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, to infiltrate the South, the prosecution and intelligence authorities said.

The man, identified only as Lee, arrived in the South in August. He underwent spy training for 10 years, including five years in China, to prepare his cover. As an agent, he was given special treatment equal to a colonel in the North’s military or vice director of the Workers’ Party, sources said.

Lee’s cover as a defector was blown when he was questioned by intelligence authorities. In 2008, another agent was arrested on National Security Law violations, including using sex to extract information about Hwang.

By Kang Chan-ho, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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